Israeli TV star Dudu Topaz found dead

62-year-old was in prison for ordering attacks on execs

JERUSALEM -- Israeli entertainer Dudu Topaz -- whose turbulent struggle to deal with his waning stardom enthralled the country -- died Thursday after apparently hanging himself in the shower of his jail cell, prison officials said. He was 62.

Topaz, one of Israel's most famous television stars, had been in jail for several months since the start of his trial for allegedly hiring thugs to assault top Israeli media executives he blamed for keeping him off the air.

A statement from the prison services said Topaz was found hanging in the shower of his cell. Paramedics were unable to revive him.

Topaz, a charismatic and handsome variety show star, who earned himself the moniker, "the ratings king," was a household name in Israel.

But in recent years, his career has been in a downward spiral -- in part due to the dominance of reality shows on prime time TV, a plight he apparently blamed on network executives.

Topaz initially denied involvement in the attacks on two TV executives and a prominent agent, but police said he later confessed to ordering the assaults.

He faced charges including assault and battery, conspiracy to commit a crime, extortion and obstruction of justice.

The saga of Topaz's arrest and trial enthralled Israel, frequently dominating the news and pushing the Mideast conflict off the front pages.

Topaz -- a diabetic -- had already attempted suicide once in prison by injecting himself with an overdose of insulin, police said.

His lawyer blamed the prison for not guarding him properly.

"All the signs pointed to the fact that he was likely to harm himself," Topaz's attorney, Zion Amir told Israel Radio after learning of his death. "Why did they not guard him?"

Topaz was to be buried Friday morning in Tel Aviv, the Israeli Performing Artists Guild announced.

Throughout his career, Topaz was never far from controversy.

In 1995, Topaz attacked a TV critic and broke his glasses after he gave a scathing review of Topaz's show. Topaz was sued and paid the critic about $20,000 in compensation.

He was also criticized for kissing a radio reporter against her will, pinching a TV presenter's cheek and biting the arm of a Latin American soap opera star.

In 1981, Topaz was credited with inadvertently helping re-elect the hawkish Likud Party after he derided its supporters as "riffraff" while speaking at a rally for the centrist Labor Party just before parliamentary elections that year.

The comment was taken as an ethnic slur directed at Israelis of Mideastern descent and is thought to have pushed swing voters to the Likud.
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